I read it so you don’t have to #richardarmitage

[spoilers for the content of a different Lauren Blakely novel]

I had to go to the library this morning anyway, so I took the opportunity to check out a Lauren Blakely novel. Our local library system has nine of her works, but only one of them (a very tattered copy; the book is obviously popular among library patrons) was available on the shelf in my branch library: Nights with Him (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014). It is part of the “Seductive Nights” series but is characterized as a standalone about characters from that series. The volume also includes a 60 pp. “prequel novella” called “A Night with Her” that sets up the action.

The plot

The scenario is “unexpected affair between two damaged people.” In the prequel, the male protagonist, Jack Sullivan, the CEO of a successful sex toy company, suffers from the tragic end of a previous relationship. The female protagonist, Michelle Milo, is a psychologist specializing in relationships and sex who hasn’t recovered from her recent “unrequited love” for a good friend. Both are confident, even a bit arrogant, except for their love troubles. They meet by coincidence in a hotel bar at a conference that unites their professional interests, spar conversationally for a while, and then retreat to a hotel room.

The novel proper begins when Jack and Michelle meet again the next day: it turns out that Jack has decided to seek out therapy and Michelle is the therapist. (It also turns out that she’s a satisfied consumer of his company’s product.) Although she immediately insists he see another therapist for his “intimacy problems,” she also has dinner with him that night, and after another erotic episode, they decide to have a no-obligation, no-emotional-entanglement affair.

Of course, as genre demands, both of them are falling in love, but every time the characters start to approach emotional intimacy, they back off. It emerges that while Jack feels guilty about the manner in which his relationship he ended, he wasn’t in love with his former fiancé, and Michelle learns that she’s no longer bothered by the fact that her romance target is together with a friend of hers. Jack uses a sex toy to arouse Michelle at the symphony, and then interrupts their enjoyment of the concert to resolve the problem. In the course of the novel, Jack encounters political competition that endangers his business. The lovers end up on the gossip pages and this disrupts her professional life, slightly — but luckily she’s been following ethics rules all along. Eventually, on a trip to Paris, Jack tells Michelle the truth about his past, and she says they need time alone to think. During the six hours or so that they’re apart, they realize they’re in love, after which they meet again to confess their emotions and have sex on a train. There’s a minor wrinkle in the last tenth of the book, when a gossip columnist creates fake news about their relationship that threatens to destroy Michelle’s career, but the good guys foil the bad guys. Jack’s business thrives. Michelle is offered the opportunity to practice in Paris and Jack goes with her.

The sex

The premise of the novel makes the “getting to know each other” emotional rather than physical, so from the beginning, they have sex in practically every chapter. The sex is not tender, even on the rare occasions that they get emotional, but I wouldn’t call it rough, either. The couple role-plays and engages in sexual power struggles reflected mostly in their language. They use different sex toys liberally. The apex of their explorations involves Michelle’s introduction to anal sex. I found the sex fairly repetitive in tone and execution, and the repeated technique of being ordered to hold back orgasm was not described very convincingly. The sex was monochrome and not really to my taste; nothing about it was ever surprising or inventive; it never touched either of the characters beyond the physical level.

My reaction

If this review of the book sounds a bit clinical, that’s because the book is a bit clinical. I know from a bit of looking around the web this morning that Blakely’s books are quite popular and many readers do find her characters interesting and her writing “hot.” I didn’t have that experience, mostly because the point of the book seems to be nearly invulnerable, high-powered people having constantly electric casual sex. For me as a reader, that doesn’t work especially well — it’s a basic principle of writing that a character has to have a vulnerability and these figures were bullet-proof; none of their problems lasted very long. But even more problematic: they didn’t seem all that invested in pursuing their goals, either. The book left me nothing to sympathize or identify with.

To enjoy book like this, I need to find the sex writing erotic, and/or I need to identify with one or more of the characters, or the plot has to be a page-turner. This book didn’t meet any of those criteria. I don’t ask for believability in this genre — for instance, it’s clear the author had no idea about how ethics investigations for therapists work, how academic papers are submitted, or how people get licensed to practice in foreign countries. OK — I can write that off. But this book was poorly plotted — the author needed to set up the problem that emerged in the last thirty pages earlier on; she needed to give the reader a sense that the characters were actually affected by a real problem outside their own highly individual (narcissistic?) emotional struggles, and that they had something to lose if this affair didn’t work out. The impression prevailed throughout that if Jack and Michelle didn’t get together, they’d just go on living their highly successful lives, having fantastic sex with other strangers. On that level, this really read like a fanfic, with no significant plot arcs, but it was inferior to fanfic in that I usually find myself caring about the resolution to a fanfic plot. In this book, in contrast, every real problem the characters encountered appeared suddenly and was dispatched within two chapters.

But the bigger problem is the characters. I just didn’t like either of them or find them attractive. I was neutral on the male character; he was just “thin.” But the woman was hard to take. I know a few psychologists, and yes, they are often frustrated by their clients. But Michelle condescends to the one client we see her with; say what you want about therapists, in general, they’re capable of a more basic sympathy toward humanity than this character is. I could see Jack as a successful businessman, but it was hard to believe someone like Michelle would become a successful psychologist. She’s so poorly drawn that she’s not even aspirational. I haven’t read much heterosexual romance in the last two decades, but I still found it just plain strange that a female novelist couldn’t muster up the energy for a more relatable female protagonist.

The language in light of Richard Armitage fantasies

It’s shooting fish in a barrel to criticize prose in romance novels; that’s not what they are about and language in them serves specific purposes, a situation that often makes dialogue and writing seem ridiculous outside the world of the novel. There’s no way to say “Take me now, darling!” outside of a bedroom without inspiring deafening laughter. Initially I had transcribed a bunch of things that Jack says, counting on the cheap laughter effect, but in thinking about it, I find that I don’t really want to reproduce it here. All I can say is that if Richard Armitage’s character says even half the things Jack says in this novel, my next response to Richard Armitage’s mentions of G-rated language on his Twitter feed will meet with a rousing round of guffaws. Suffice it say that neither mum nor nephew is in the target audience for this kind of work.

But as the comments on a previous post reveal, I think the problem here potentially goes beyond whether it’s arousing in itself to hear someone like Richard Armitage say, on a recording, something like, “you look so sexy with my dick in your mouth” or “I need you to come with my face in your pussy.” (I hope, for all our sakes, that the project he’s actually reading is a little more restrained. I don’t care for the floweriness of conventional romantic jargon, but it could be preferable to some of the sex talk presented here.) My issue with this material is not that no one should say or write those words, or even that they should be restricted to private (bedroom) conversation and not published. Porn has its place, and this writing is mild by the standards of those familiar with the extremes of the genre; frankly, I’ve read (and enjoyed) fanfic that makes the sex acts described in this book look like a Sunday School lesson.

The issue, rather, is how well that language will fit with the listener’s fantasies about Richard Armitage. There are dirty things that I’d love to hear Richard Armitage say to me in my fantasies, even if Blakely’s prose doesn’t reproduce them. But hearing the actor say them out loud brings the whole enterprise potentially a little too close for comfort, no matter the beauty of his voice, if I’m not fully immersed in and identifying with the author’s fantasies. I can’t predict how other readers will take it, but if the new project is like this book, the scaffolding is just too flimsy to allow that, at least for me.

~ by Servetus on January 12, 2018.

14 Responses to “I read it so you don’t have to #richardarmitage”

  1. Doesn’t sound very enticing to me…

    Like

  2. Thanks for taking the fall for us! I’m really struggling to understand what might have made RA agree to narrate something like this… I hope it’s going to be possible to listen without squirming (not in a good way, obviously).

    I like a good dirty book as much as the next woman, but I prefer to hear the voices in my head. Reading also means you can just skip bits that don’t conform to your own fantasy preferences 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m guessing that an audiobook maybe won’t be quite this explicit, but I don’t know. Yesterday I was thinking, oh, it’s b/c she’s a bestselling romance author, i.e., she’s part of a whole media conglomerate, but it looks all the books our library has are self-published, so that can’t be the reason.

      Maybe he read them and liked them?

      My mom used to do that: she’d read romances and just skip the sexy parts. Fade to black, she’d say, and that it saved her a lot of time. Erotic fiction is really heavily taste-conditioned. I just don’t like to read the word “pussy,” ever. That word alone can ruin a fanfic for me.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hmmm. Not interested. Thanks for enduring the preview for all of us, you are a trooper, but….no. I love his voice and think it would bother me hearing him read this.

    Like

    • Knowing you as I do, this definitely would not be something you enjoy. Apparently the Wanderlust book is not so racy. Let’s hope.

      Like

  4. “During the six hours or so that they’re apart…..”
    ich musste grinsen, weil mich das an folgendes erinnert hat: Als vor einigen Jahren Fifty Shades of Grey über uns kam, war zumindest ich noch relativ unbeleckt in dieser Art der “Literatur”. Ich habe zwar Groschen- und Liebesromane in meiner Jugend konsumiert und dachte aber, ich sei dann damit durch (Cartland und Co.). Jedenfalls läuft dieser Markt ja wieder wie geschmiert. Also, wenn man dann mal so in das Genre liest, dann geht das schon super holzschnittmäßig zu. Was du beschreibst, ist inhaltlich der absolute Klassiker: schwer traumatisierte und höchst vergangenheitsbeladene Charaktere (gerne mit Suizid, verstorbenen Geschwistern, und oder anderen Familienmitgliedern, Haustieren, etc. pp. ) rangeln im Bett und sonstwo miteinander.
    ABER: der Typ ist IMMER höllisch sexy, die Frau wahlweise verhuscht und/oder verkannt, Mary Sue eben. Aber ich schweife ab.
    Zurück zu meiner Erinnerung: Jedenfalls endet FSG ja recht offen und sie verlässt ihn. Gut. Warum nicht. Eigentlich eine clevere Entscheidung, nach dem Sexstress 🙂 Dann kommt Band 2 und man steigt ein, wie die Heldin unter der Trennung leidet, die – Überraschung – keine 2 Wochen her ist. Spätestens da wird auch dem letzten klar, dass der Plot hier eine sowas von untergeordnete Rolle spielt. So bleibt alles schön überschaubar 😉

    Like

    • Those novels started off as a Twilight fanfic, and one thing that I thought was really striking about the Twilight novels I did read (the first two) was how well the author could end a novel so that you just had to know what happened next.

      Like

  5. Thanks for asking the hit, Serv! This a bit close to the 4th wall for comfort, but the content you describe makes me wish he would actually read some of the best fanfic written.

    Like

    • LOL, anything for the fandom 🙂

      I was thinking about this today and I think I’d like to see him in some of the best fanfic. Not sure about reading it.

      Like

  6. ah Serv, what you do to make it interesting! lol I am not sure how I will react to hearing him read this type of material it can be very “iffy”. To me I can handle a good erotic novel if I like the characters, to me that is a must to have well developed characters. I don’t need sex scenes on every page, I find if it is too often, it can become quite boring and take away from the development of the characters and the plot. I am surprised of all the works out there he would chose something along these lines. So many good ones left to do……Thank you again for as always your “insight”. Much appreciated.

    Like

    • In the interim, the author has stated that the book will be more focused on the love story. But even so, his motivation to participate in this project remains a bit of a puzzle to me.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. […] years ago I did read a few Harlequin Romances when there was nothing else available. Servetus took one for the team and quickly read an earlier book, Nights with Him, to get a feel for Blakely’s style. I […]

    Like

  8. […] Lauren Blakely, Nights With Him. Picked up because Richard Armitage was reading another of her books. Already reviewed. […]

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

 
%d bloggers like this: